Cycling the Peak District Rail Trails

If you’re looking for an easy way to explore the Peak District on two wheels this summer, then this post is for you. There are three fantastic rail trails within the Peak District National Park, built on the sites of former railways lines, now converted for the use of cyclists and walkers.

These trails are relatively flat, they’re well surfaced, and there are a range of facilities such as car parks, cafes. toilets and even bike hire options dotted along the routes. This makes these trails a perfect option for those looking for an easy way to start exploring the Peak District.

The Tissington Trail

Of all the Peak District rail trails, perhaps the Tissington Trail is the most well-known. The trail runs for 13-miles from Ashbourne to Parsley Hay, following the site of the former Ashbourne to Buxton railway line.

The trail is relatively flat but offers great views across the Derbyshire Dales, giving a real sense of being out exploring but without having huge hills to cycle up.

The trail can also serve as a great starting point for exploring further or venturing off to nearby places. There are dozens of quaint Peak District villages nearby if you want to head off the trail for a pub lunch. And some of the Peak District’s most beautiful places are just a short distance away too. Dovedale, for example, is close by and is one of the most visited places in the national park. It’s a stunning ravine where stepping stones cross a shallow river, and there are caves to visit and hills to climb.

If you’re feeling energetic, you can tackle the entire trail by riding out to Parsley Hay and back, a route of 26-miles. At Parsley Hay, there is a range of facilities, including a cafe, so it makes a great spot to rest and refuel before heading back to the market town of Ashbourne.

If you’re looking for shorter options, you can ride to any of the former stations dotted along the line, most of which have picnic areas to stop and rest, and some of them have tea rooms and toilets.

The Monsal Trail

The Monsal Trail is the shortest of the rail trails at just 8.5-miles, but you could also argue that it’s the most interesting and most picturesque.

The trail runs from Bakewell to Topley Pike, following the site of the former Midland Railway line that was built to link London to Manchester in 1863. Along the trail, you’ll pass through several old tunnels, and it’s these tunnels that really give the trail a sense of history but also adds a quirky element to your bike ride.

The Headstone Tunnel is the longest one you’ll pass through. It runs for almost 500 metres and you’ll head away from the daylight into the dimly lit tunnel for an eerie experience.

The Headstone Viaduct is another highlight of the route. The trail uses the viaduct to pass high over the river below, and it’s well worth locking up your bike and walking down the path to the side of the viaduct for a look back up at where you’ve crossed.

Along the trail, Miller’s Dale Station and Hassop Station on the best options for facilities. Both of which have options to buy coffee and cake to fuel the next leg of your ride.

The High Peak Trail

At 17-miles, the High Peak Trail is the longest of the rail trails. It can also be linked up with the Tissington Trail if you’re looking for a really long route to tackle.

The route runs from Middleton Top to Parsley Hay, following the former Cromford and High Peak railway.

Although still relatively flat for most of the trail, the High Peak trail does feature a couple of short climbs that will get the legs burning a bit. The highest point of the trail is Ladmanlow at 386m, but that effort is rewarded with incredible views across the surrounding countryside.

What Bike Do You Need to Ride the Rail Trails?

All of the Peak District rail trails are very well surfaced with crushed limestone. This means that they are suitable to ride all year round and are unlikely to hold much surface water apart from a few puddles in the dips.

A hardtail mountain bike is absolutely perfect for this kind of terrain, and that also gives you the freedom to head off the trail and explore any areas you like the look of. Equally, a gravel bike is made for eating up this kind of terrain and you’ll be able to cover the miles with ease.

The trails are shared with walkers and on sunny weekends the trails can be very popular. As such, it can be quite hard to get up to a good speed on a bike safely. That said, these trails are there to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace so there’s no need to rush anyway.

There are several bike hire facilities on the trails, offering a variety of different bikes. Most of these also offer e-Bikes should you want to head out on a really long ride without burning up all of your energy.

These are great trails to explore whatever bike you ride, and with tunnels, caves, hills and villages to explore along the way, they make a perfect escape for a two-wheeled adventure.

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